Sunday, May 5, 2013

Beyond Our Walls - Matthew 28:16-20 - May 5, 2013

This morning we come to the passage that has been named “The Great Commission.”  It is a passage I have heard preached since my childhood by every well intended missionary that wondered into the walls of the church.  I imagine that many of your can recite this passage from memory.  But, while its gift is its familiarity, that too may be its curse.  We are so accustomed to hearing pastors uses this passage to plea for money related to a missions offering and to missionaries use it as a launching pad to tell us stories of people far away, we are tempted to tune out and turn away, expecting only more of the same. But there is more to this passage than we have heard before.  It is a call that is at one moment intensely personal and profoundly corporate.  It speaks to us all where we are and points us toward the way of life that God intends for us individually and together. Come and take a fresh look at this familiar passage and discover what God might have to say to us in this place this morning. 

Our passage begins with the disciples gathered on a hillside in Galilee, exactly where Jesus had directed them to go. It is pretty apparent that Matthew was not on a public relations contract with the disciples.  Throughout his gospel he reports their questions and their squabbles.  He shows them as real people dealing with the raw emotions and faith discoveries born in their walk with Jesus. His take on this moment is no different. Verse 17 reports; When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  First the response we expect – “when they saw him, they worshiped him.” But, then he adds a haunting tagline “but some doubted.”  What?  Here on the mountainside in the shadows of the cross and the resurrection, in the wake of his post-resurrection appearances, doubt still lingers.

Our temptation is to meet those who doubt with questions or condemnation.  In these last hours on earth you might imagine Jesus becoming outraged by their doubt, but he does not. He does not rebuke them, he reaches out to them. He responds to their deep seated questioning the same way he does ours, with grace. This grace response brings them together and sets the foundation for a gospel that will touch the four corners of the earth. 

Jesus summons them to let them know that they could let go of their doubt, that the task they are about to be assigned is based on divine authority. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Jesus comes to them, comforts them, and lets them know that the commission that awaits them is founded in the very authority of God. Authority is a term that seems to make people nervous.  Most of the time, it seems, we hear this term “authority” being leveraged by people exerting power over others – commanding, demanding their way.  Most of us can quickly recall a boss, a coach, or a teacher who seem to relish in their use – and sometimes abuse – of their authority.  Jesus turns the image of authority on its head.  It is a power given by God that is demonstrated in humility and service. Rather than authority expressed in the symbols of power of soldiers and shields, Jesus expresses it through broken bread and a broken body – palaces given way to mangers – the trappings of royalty given way to a ministry to blind beggars and tax collectors. Jesus wants the disciples to know that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, but his demonstration of authority would be radically different than the vulgar displays common by the Romans and the religious leadership of the day and some of the religious leaders of our days. The Great Commission is founded in a divine authority, but we must be careful which model of authority we claim.  There is room for no masters, rulers, or powerbrokers – only servants.

As servants we are called to shake the world at its very foundation.  We listen as Jesus teaches; Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. If this had come from anyone but Jesus it would have sounded ridiculous.  There before Jesus stood a rag-tag semi-literate bunch of fishermen, tax collectors and assorted other religious misfits.  Their journey with Jesus is littered with stories of doubt and failure, confusion and frustration.  They struggled over and over again to get it right, only to stumble, bumble and fall again.  How could a commission so grand in scale ever be entrusted to this group?  It was and is because they belonged to Jesus.

Jesus told them that they would go and impact all the peoples of the world with the gospel.  In Acts we listen as Jesus tells them that they are to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the earth.  I can only imagine how vast this assignment must have seemed to them.  It is probable that the farthest they had ever been from their homes was 100 miles.  It is hard to realize that to that moment their whole world was confined the distance between Oklahoma City and Ardmore.  In a breath Jesus was transforming the scale of their world and of what it meant to serve and follow God.  His was and is a call to see the world beyond race and place, language and culture and to serve together as God’s witnesses in the world.

This morning we are the living embodiment of this Great Commission.  Together we are from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Ghana, Cameroon, the Sudan, the Chin and Karen Mountains in Myanmar, and more. Together we speak English, Spanish, Burmese, Zo Tung, Arabic, French, Matupi, Fallam, Karen, Asante Twi, Yemba and probably still others unknown to me. It fascinates me that with so many languages and cultures worshipping together none of us speak the language of those gathered on that hillside and none of us would call Galilee home.  Together we are the grand demonstration of God’s great work in the world. We are a product of a God who loves and a God who sends. John 3:16 reminds us that “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son.”  Jesus tells us in John 20:20 that “As I was sent, so I send you.” Followers of Jesus Christ were sent that each of us might hear the good news of salvation and now we are sent together, side by side, commissioned by Jesus to live out of his call to our community and the world. The question is not whether we are sent, but it is instead to whom and where we are sent.

Some churches talk about finding their place in the world.  For our church family it has become at the very center of who we are as a people of God. It is no secret that we offer platforms for service in the midst of our city, across the nation, and across the globe. We have embrace partners of missional significance and found venues that allow us to engage in God’s work in the world hands-on.  The unique challenge for our church family is to learn how to do missions together across the congregational, cultural and linguistic boundaries.  Each congregation: First Baptist Church, United Myanmar Baptist Church, Oklahoma Zo Tung Baptist Church, All Africa Baptist Church, and the Sudanese Christian Fellowship bring something unique and valuable to the table.  We can learn much from one another and can learn to work and serve together.  It will challenge each of us to push beyond our cultural comfort zone but together we can become a shining light of faith for our community and our world.  Where they see boundaries we will choose to be family with one another and servants living out our call side-by-side. This kind of mission vision will impact us all and can help us change the world in the name of Jesus.

Jesus closes the Great Commission with one of the most reassuring words found in scripture. Jesus says, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." The great news is that this grand task invites us into partnership with God. Whoever we are, wherever we are from, whatever language we may speak, and whatever role we are called to play in the Great Commission story, we can be sure we go with Jesus Christ.  We will never be strong enough on our own to fulfill this grand global endeavor given by God and that is exactly how God intends it. The Great Commission that was offered on that hillside in Galilee, and that we hear challenge us today, is an impossibility short of the power of God at work in us and through us. We are called to go together and to go in the power and the presence of God.  Where is God calling you?  Where is God calling us as a church family? How will we respond?

Know that your answer – know that our answer – will impact us as much as we seek to impact others. William Dooley shared a story with me that emerged from the new Catholic Pope’s challenge to new priests during Holy Week.  While I do not often quote the Pope, I think he was right on target with this challenge.  He told these young priests “’to go look for the lost sheep’ and added that when they came back, they ’better smell like those sheep. ‘He wants them amid the people in the muck of life.’”[i]  The Great Commission calls us into the heart of our community and into the world together.  There are still so many lost sheep without a shepherd.  There are still so many living in brokenness that need hope and healing.  There are so many that need forgiveness and grace.  We are called to go – to go together-and to go with God.  It is time to once again go beyond our walls – the walls of this building and the walls of comfort and culture that hem us in, and go out into the muck of life as witnesses of the one who loves us and sends us. Let nothing stand in our way.

[i] Emanuell Grinberg, “In his first Easter as pope, Francis calls for peace in his own style,” found online at  pm 4/2/2013.

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